Directed by: Lars von Trier » Written by: Lars von Trier, 2009 » Region/Time: Denmark, 109 minutes.
Starring: Willem Dafoe as He » Charlotte Gainsbourg as She
Lars von Trier has been the enfant terrible of international cinema since before his breakthrough with 1996’s Breaking the Waves. Since then his films have always provoked great discussion, including the Cannes favourite Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005). His films tend to feature a main character, often female, who is beaten down inexorably and without compassion by the world around her. Von Trier has a dark, dark vision of humanity – we are not his favourite things on Earth – and his latest film, Antichrist, does nothing to shake this vision.
Although marketed as a dark, psychological portrait of grief, I think this is actually a horror movie. It has been two days since I saw Antichrist, and I am still unable to shake the terror the last hour of this film instilled in me.
The film is divided into four chapters, with a prologue and an epilogue. In the prologue, filmed in glowing black and white to the sounds of Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga (“Leave me to weep over my cruel fate”), snow gently drifts down from the sky while the two main characters have wild, passionate (and graphic) sex. Their young child lets himself out of his baby cage, passes his parents fucking, climbs on a desk and falls (jumps?) to his death out the apartment window. On the desk are three metal statuettes labelled Grief, Despair and Pain.
The film cuts to Chapter One (subtitled Grief). This chapter involved Willem Dafoe’s character (He) using his best therapist moves to help his wife (She) recover from her grief. Her grief is extreme, however, and he is unable to normalise her.
In Chapter Two (Pain), He and She head to their cottage in the woods (Eden) to try to work through her fears. She, however, has fallen further into her grief. We learn that She was working on a book (Gynocide) that deals with how women have been punished throughout history for being witches and demons. He also sees an astrology chart with pictures of a deer, a fox and a crow labelled as The Three Beggars (Grief, Pain and Despair). He tries increasingly ridiculous psychotherapy techniques to work through She’s grief and fear of nature, all to no avail and she seems to get further and further from reality. He tries to create a pyramid of her fears, placing Nature slightly below the top of the pyramid. During this chapter, He also encounters a deer with a stillborn birth still hanging out of its uterus and a fox disembowelling itself. The fox turns to the camera and says “Chaos reigns.”
And so it does.
In Chapter Three (Despair), He discovers She’s draft book, which seems to descend into madness. Based on the autopsy report of their child, it seems that She also deliberately broke their son’s feet by putting the wrong shoes on each foot. As He imagines this scenario, he amends the pyramid-of-fear chart by putting Satan at the top. He crosses it out and puts “Me” at the top, after which there is one of the best “jump scare” moments I’ve seen in a while. I might have screamed in the theatre.
Without giving away the last hour of the film (Chapter Four: The Three Beggars and an epilogue), if I tell you there is terror, escape, genital mutilation, and a heavy grindstone attached to one character’s leg, you can see how this film fits into the horror genre.
The film leaves She’s actions open to interpretation, while hinting that she a) is a witch, b) tortured their child and c) saw him standing in the window during that prologue scene. What or who then does the Antichrist of the title refer to? [ END ]